Deafheaven – Roads To Judah
Ambitious in the way that Roads to Judah maintains a more purist Nordic BM concoction while skillfully sidelining the four tracks with contemporary Stateside experimentation; don’t get me wrong, I’m not missing the news that this is yet another disc unfairly trivialized for being recorded in North America – I like the cool blue synth wash that initiates the album (in “Violet”) and I dislike the the austere tweeness of “Unrequited”‘s intro piece. Nonetheless, those aesthetics exhibit that the black metal formula is foundational and grasped by Deafheaven’s players more than simply being interpreted through a post-___ filter.
It’s Deafheaven’s stylistic mastery that proves Judah‘s largest shortcoming – Like Envy‘s Recitation (2010), there seems to be too much of a knowing wink on display. The band knows exactly what it’s doing, working alongside a well-tested machine of the members’ own design. I think writing that there is too little risk involved is misleading… Actually, that’s exactly what I mean, but in the sense that I feel the disc is clearly aware its melodies are textbook haunting, textbook evocative, and textbook black metal.
This doesn’t mean Judah isn’t all of the above – But think of how much it could benefit from a few non-scholarly sources. I don’t think the screamo riffcraft and layering counts – “Unrequited” just about hoodwinks you into thinking the track’s final motif is anything but straight ahead melo-core influence. But, as I continue to concede, it is handled with a workmanship quality and receives marks for a thorough explication.
I mention ambition again because I do not mean to suggest that Deafheaven’s path has already been well trodden. I feel it is like Hume’s shade of blue that we’ve never actually seen before; we’ve just seen the gradients that come before and after it many times before enough to guess what it would look (or in this case, sound) like. It’s a dark path that not many wish to make (for fear of scene backlash and genre-sex gone awry?)… A band like Krallice seems to enjoy rolling into the embankment and diving through the wooly vines down below with machete in hand. There’s no going back that way, and it produces a hard-fought beauty that is the essence of experimentation. Roads to Judah is more a great essay on heartbreaking black metal than it is a moving album itself, but it’s a perpetual one for the devil in the details and I can’t help but admire that.